New defense personnel system will hurt Blacks

Congress passed the Department of Defense's Defense Transformation Act in November 2003. The legislation was designed to "produce a more flexible personnel management" system that will help the Defense Department more easily respond to matters regarding national security without competing for top talent.

The AFGE is the largest federal employee union, representing 600,000 workers in the federal and D.C. governments. Nearly a third of the Defense Department's civilian workforce is Black.

Brooks said the new system was not designed to help Blacks advance their careers at the Defense Department.

"It is no secret that Blacks have benefited from the civil service system, where once you got a government job, you had a job for life unless you broke some type of law," said Brooks, who heads the Women's and Fair Practices departments for the union. "In Black neighborhoods around Washington, D.C., having a 'good government job' meant having a good life and being a leader in the community. When this new system is implemented in July, that will all change. It's tough enough for Blacks to get into federal employment, and now Blacks will have to fight to keep a job."

The National Security Personal System, which got the nod from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Office of Personnel Management Acting Director Dan Blair, would also marginalize union input concerning the department's workplace and employment practices. Brooks said grievance rights and rights of due process for employees are under jeopardy in the new system. The American Federation of Government Employees, along with nine other unions, filed suit against Rumfeld and Blair, and hope to get an injunction stopping the implementation of the system.

"The solidarity displayed in the filing of the lawsuit by these 10 unions shows that we mean business," AFGE General Counsel Mark Roth said. "No one, not even the secretary of defense, is above the law."

The Bush administration has given the green light to federal agencies to do what is necessary to accomplish its missions with fewer personnel and without minimal regard to worker's rights. Brooks, and many of her union's leaders, are upset that Rumsfeld and Blair did not follow the law when it came to setting up NSPS.

"Rumsfeld and Blair were supposed to actively engage us on the changes," Brooks said. "They did not. They ignored us. That is why we are taking them to court."

Union President John Gage said going to court is justified based on the behavior of Defense Department leaders.

"Defense has unveiled a plan that is created unilaterally," Gage said. "In the 10 meetings that we had with DOD officials, we were never permitted to go beyond the superficial, resulting in a personnel system that will compromise national security and which has grave implications for [the] safety of America's fighting men and women."

A representative for the Defense Department said, "NSPS will bring us the best and brightest into government service and will make
government personnel issues more efficient."

Brooks said she has been talking to Democratic members of Congress to see what they can do. The highest-ranking Black member on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Kendrick B. Meek (D-Fla.), has talked to Brooks and other union leaders and said he does not support NSPS.

Meek also has been active on other union fronts. As a member of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, he recently tried to pass an amendment that would have allowed that department's employees the right to form a union.
His measure failed on a bipartisan vote, 16-11.

Brooks said that other Cabinet-level departments are looking at or moving toward implementing NSPS-like systems, and that is very dangerous.

"I hate to sound like I am ringing an alarm, but people need to be careful," Brooks said. "Slowly, workers' rights are being dismantled. It seems that the model employer for this government is Wal-Mart.

"People must remember that it is the unions who created the middle class of this country. The more unions go down, the tougher it will be for the average American to live."

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